How Long Does Every Type of Tea Last?
It's time to go through your tea collection—expired bags and loose leaves aren't as flavorful as the fresh stuff.
Whether you brew it at the beginning of your day or in the evening to wind down, tea is a beverage most of us keep on hand. If you like to have multiple blends in your pantry—black tea for a caffeine boost, chamomile for bed time, or fruit blends for flavor—it may be hard to keep track of how long ago your purchased each type. While expired tea won't make you sick, it does change its potency and flavor. But how long does it take for this to happen? Here, tea experts explain how long the beverage lasts, plus the best storage methods to extend its shelf life.
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How Long Tea Lasts
How long tea stays fresh is dependent on the type you're drinking—but it won't ever go bad. "If stored over long periods of time, tea does not spoil, but goes stale," says Ketan Desai, the chief educator and sustainability officer at VAHDAM India. "This distinction means that when brewed, a recently bought tea will be fresh, brisk, and flavorful. A stale cup of tea stored for a long period of time will be flat, off, and dull."
Generally, though, most teas last for up to two years.
As is the case with most tea varieties, black tea stays fresh for about two years. "Most black teas are made from regular tea leaves," says Desai. "They are well-rolled [which refers to the process of rolling and pressing tea leaves to extract the flavor inside], 100 percent oxidized, and fired, making them relatively hardier than the delicate white, oolong, and green teas. In fact, if stored properly, well-made black teas from good tea estates harvested in the peak season actually mature with age."
Although most teas have a lifespan of two years, there are some exceptions. "Some delicate or handmade white teas like bai hao, darjeeling silver needles, and oolong tend to have a shorter life span—about a year—as they are made from extremely young and tender shoots, with zero or light rolling," says Desai. "Hence, they are very sensitive, and therefore, highly hygroscopic, meaning they absorb moisture and foreign odors very quickly and easily."
Like white tea, most green teas will keep their freshness for about a year. "Japanese green teas such as sencha, gyokuro, and matcha, are quite tender and best kept in the refrigerator in a sealed container to prevent them from absorbing other flavors," says Heidi Johannsen Stewart, the co-owner of Bellocq Tea Atelier. "Matcha is best consumed within a year of purchase; it oxidizes very quickly and will easily lose vitality. When past its prime, matcha will [be a dull, muddy green to yellow color]."
Tea blends with florals tend to have a shorter shelf life than black, green, or white tea. "Floral infusions, particularly those made with chamomiles, rose petals, jasmine, and lavender, tend to lose their fragrance very fast—as quickly as three months," says Desai.
Teas made with dried cuts of fruits tend to lose their flavor within six months of purchase. "This is because the essential oils (think orange peels, lemon rind, and cuts of dried cranberries) tend to evaporate, taking with them the oleoresin compounds," says Desai. "Oleo compounds give the fruits their aroma and fragrance, and the resins are responsible for the taste."
Like fruit teas, blends made with nuts also don't last very long. "The volatile oils contained within nuts and seeds can quickly become rancid," says Johannsen Stewart. "I would advise consuming them within six months of purchase."
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How to Store Tea
There are a few ways to extend the shelf life of tea. "The three enemies of tea are sunlight, moisture, and temperature," says Desai. "That is why you should immediately transfer your tea (be it loose leaf or tea bags) into an air-tight jar or container." Suitable containers include opaque or dark-color ceramic, metal, or glass options. "It should never be plastic, as plastics tend to absorb odors and your tea will start getting flavors of the earlier batch of tea stored in there," says Desai.
Once you transfer the tea to an appropriate container, store it in a dark, dry place away from sunlight and any materials with a strong odor. "This means you should not store your teas in the spice cabinet with your favorite coffees," says Desai.
There are some exceptions to this storage method, though. "Japanese green teas such as sencha, gyokuro, and matcha, are quite tender and best kept in the refrigerator—in a sealed container to prevent them from absorbing other flavors," says Johannsen Stewart.
How to Know If Tea Has Expired
There are a few telltale signs that tea has expired. "First, look at the botanicals: If the leaves, herbs, and spices look dusty, dull, and sallow—lacking a sheen of vitality—the tea is likely old," says Johannsen Stewart. Smell is another indicator of freshness. "The aroma of a fresh tea will be sweet and floral, but a tea that [has spoiled won't have a scent at all]," says Desai. Additionally, you can taste the tea to see if it's stale or not. "The taste for fresh tea will be brisk and pleasant, unlike a stale tea, which will be flat and harsh or tasteless," says Desai.